“Tales of Faith” Book Tour

cover faithwriters

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Shalom, Patient Readers!

Today, I am posting an excerpt from a newly published book by a homeschooled young lady who is a close relative. 😉

The book is a collection of writing assignments she did over the course of a year, for the faithwriters.com website, and the stories cover a vast range of topics and genres – all delightful. Rosemary has a keen sense of humor and profound insights. She inspires my faith and tickles my funny bone regularly. She has lots of practice at storytelling, and not just for faithwriters – her younger siblings often ask her for a story, and won’t let her stop the tale until it reaches a satisfying conclusion. 🙂 In addition, she is a far more prolific blogger than yours truly, and you can find more of her writing here: Writefury

It was hard to choose which story to excerpt, since they are all so different, but I’m going with a funny one first, and may post another later in the week. Buy the book – you won’t be sorry!

I Am Ginger

Topic: Gluttony (overindulgence and overconsumption) (1/15/15)

Level 3, Advanced

Level Placement: 5th  

Overall Placement: 19th

I am Ginger.

I am a Cockapoo.

I am invincible.

There was a time when I was a small dog in every sense of the word, but that time is long gone.

As I still am today, I was only about a foot tall, not standing on my hind legs. But back then I was a trim little thing from constantly chasing rats, moles, chickens and rabbits with my brother, Fred.

Then the coyotes came and Fred was no more. I was sad for a while, but I consoled myself with the extra food he no longer needed to eat. I got a little chubbier, but not very noticeably. One day, I found where the extra bulk could come in handy.

The family was coming back down the path in their box with wheels and I ran out to greet them. I was a little too eager and found myself nearer to the wheel than I wanted to be. The next thing I knew, it had gone right over me.

It hurt and I yelped. The humans made frightened sounds and came out to see if I was all right. Surprisingly, I was. But the people needed more proof. I was rushed to the man in the white coat, who poked at me until the people were okay.

That was the day I lost my fear of the boxes with wheels.

Not long after that, two other big dogs joined us: Gilligan and Mary-Anne. The people got a different kind of food for them that tasted WAY better than mine. Seriously. I’d been missing out.

The first day, one of the people called us, scooped out the food, then ran back into their house. I beat Gilligan and Mary-Anne to it and started eating as much as I could, but the two big dogs were right behind me and started sticking their big, wet noses into the bowl, nudging me out.

I hadn’t had my fill yet and I had been here first. I gave them a little growl to let them know what I thought, and to my surprise, they backed away and let me eat first. They were totally submitting to me!

That was the day I realized my power over larger dogs, and I’ve kept a tight hold of it ever since.

Mary-Anne didn’t last long, though, and soon it was just Gilligan and me. But the days of luxury were gone. We only got fed once a day and it was the normal food that I had. I was wasting away. Gilligan was still submitting to me, so I got more food than that big oaf, but still…

Then, the year that I turned nine, about four years later, Gilligan died. The people were devastated. So was I. I only got half as much food as I had before.

About a month later, two puppies came and joined my family: Bullwinkle and Sassafras. For the first few months of their lives, they lived inside and I only saw them a few times. I was still only getting a small amount of food.

But then the puppies moved outside. And that meant that they were fed outside. They ate puppy food, which had even more vitamins and protein packed in than my and Gilligan’s food put together, and it tasted like heaven.

It was clear from the very first time I met the puppies that they would submit to me, even though I had a little trouble breaking Bullwinkle. So once they were outside, I had no trouble chasing them away from the food bowl.

It was one of the happiest times of my life. The puppies became sleek and athletic, while I became bigger and bigger. But the people didn’t know it because my fur had grown so long it hid me like a blanket.

At around the one year mark, Sassafras was sent back because she kept going past the fence and killing other animals, so Bullwinkle was left, but he still got the same amount of food. Even more for me.

Bullwinkle was noticing my growing middle and was obviously getting concerned. He bounced around, trying to play with me constantly. I prefer gluttony to activity, so I just growled at him and went back to the food bowl.

But the people had to find out sooner or later. I was given a haircut and the people were all shocked. They made sounds like: “Fat” “Too much food” and “Diet.”

I wonder what they mean?

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Titus 2 School?

capdiploma

Honestly, there are very few things I learned at college that have proven useful for my everyday life as a mother of 7. I know G-d has had His hand and His plan leading me every step of the way, but sometimes I wonder about all the facts I crammed in at the university that are sitting somewhere in my brain, currently gathering dust. However, I’ve had some funny thoughts rattling around this week, about what I DO use, and thought I’d share them.

Here are the courses I actually get some use out of, on a semi-regular basis (all were, of course, elective classes – not requirements, in college):
Children’s Literature – I took this course as a total “filler,” during my last summer quarter at the university, but it did introduce me to some great books and authors that I have since acquired for our family library. (Here’s a gratuitous plug for my favorite children’s book that I found through this course, “How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen” by Russel Hoban.)
Acting Voice – useful for interpreting the different characters in the books mentioned above
Fencing – I am the mother of 5 boys – yes, this has been an occasionally useful skill to break out when I need to impress them!
ESL (English as a Second Language) Tutoring – translates well to EFL (English as a First Language)

And there, we stop. However . . .

Titus-24

I have come up with some ideas for classes that actually would have come in VERY handy. I would love to propose that something along these lines be taught in some kind of “Titus 2 School” for young mothers. Here are my humble suggestions, in the form of a course catalog, of sorts. Feel free to offer some of your own in the comments. This list is by no means exhaustive:

One-Handed Typing – Useful for maximizing computer time while nursing a baby.

Records Management – Includes building your photo gallery of children’s art projects (before their disposal), and filing options for unexplainably sticky but necessary records.

Businesslike Home Management – Chore charts and their implementation, perpetuation, and rotation.

Toy Obsession Workshop – Coaching against covetousness.

Strategic Bandaid Placement – Level 1: On the body of a child (wounds optional). Level 2: The stockpile – where to keep it so it doesn’t dwindle unnecessarily and contribute to litter.

Prioritizing – Practice addressing questions such as “Which cry do I answer first – that of the hungry infant or the toddler on the potty?”

Delegation – Emphasis on capability evaluation, training, and assigning the youngest capable child for each task.

Crisis Management (prerequisites: Prioritizing and Delegation) – Determining your course of action in multiple-implication emergency situations that can have no possible advance plan, i. e., one of your children breaks a bone when you have a houseful of company to feed and your toddler needs a diaper change. (This course was formerly known as “Counter-Ambush Training”)

Battlefield Triage (highly recommended for mothers of boys) – Covers first-aid and CPR, as well as wilderness treatment options. Includes ingraining of the mantra “head wounds aren’t usually as bad as they first appear.”

Dressing (and Redressing) a 3 Year Old – Learn to guide appropriate choices according to weather, time of day, etc.. Also covers “overriding skills” in the event of guidance failure on important occasions such as weddings and funerals, as well as photography skills in the event of children freelancing in their closets and drawers.

Finances of Childhood Pet Ownership – Covers making arrangements (before the pet’s purchase) for who will be paying for food, litter, vet bills and toys, as well as remedies for when the agreed payor runs out of money, but the animal is still hungry or sick or bored (aka “alive”).

Leadership of Group Study Time When your “Group” Includes Toddlers – Handling interruptions with grace, dogged determination, and an abundance of review questions!

Answering Ridiculous Questions with a Straight Face – Test questions include: Why does stickiness turn into hair? Mom, is this my east hand? and Can you milk a gecko?

Rapid-Fire Decision-Making 101 (a skill building workshop) – Strengthen your responsibility muscles! Will help with split second risk-assessment, short-range cause and effect projection, long range projection for bystander (younger sibling) witnesses of prospective permitted activity, the irrevocable veto and qualified permission using a signed waiver when faced with the question “Can I? Huh? Can I?”

Rapid-Fire Decision-Making 102 – Will include a field trip, grocery shopping with four or more rapping advertising agents at your side.

Micro-biology of Food Off the Floor – Will discuss the so called “3-second rule,” as well as the variations between floors of kitchens, bathrooms, cars, and outdoor surfaces. (Please include a pocket stopwatch with your purchase of the text for this class.)

Small Construction Projects – Building a sound-proof phone booth out of extra closet space, building prize-winning floats for entry in your local parade, and assembling toys late at night before the birthday party. If time allows, there will be discussion of whether any useful written instructions are ever exported from China.

Political Science of Sibling Relationships (prerequisite: Middle East Politics) – Covers advocacy, dispute resolution, hostage situations, and discusses the varying interpretations of the verse “. . . a brother was born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
What have I missed?

The Sin of Moses

Now, to sober things up a bit – or at least humble them up for me! I got a new insight today, on how the sin of Moses has crept into my life.

moses_water_rock_strike

I’ve always wondered what, exactly, the sin of Moses was – you know, the one for which he was punished by not being allowed in to the Promised Land? Well, I’ve been struggling for awhile with knowing how to positively motivate my children. I’m ashamed to say I’ve resorted to guilting them way too often. Instead of encouraging and building up like the wise woman I want to be, I become a foolish woman, tearing down my house with my own hands. (Proverbs 14:1)

sledgehammer

As I was praying today, asking for freedom from this tendency, the voice of Moses rang in my head, as he cried out, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10) My heart sank into repentance almost immediately, as I recognized the tone all too well. He is pushing guilt on the people, when they are asking for his help. Many times, when overwhelmed by all that is being asked of me by my large brood, I am prone to lash out instead of simply praying for patience and answering the requests in order of their immediacy.

moses-in-desert

The hardest thing, of course, is seeing the ugly fruit come out in my children’s interactions with each other. I hope and pray that we can all shake off the rotten fruit, and that I am able to be a better example to them from here on out. My hope is that we WILL be free, because this answer came directly in response to my prayer, and I asked for help in the right place – from the one who came to set captives free!

(I’m not saying this is ALL Moses was being punished for in this instance, but the L-rd has definitely used it to get my attention today. I also did look at the Rabbinic sources, and found out that this factor is one of the main 5 theories on the identification of Moses’ sin. (Thanks, Rambam!)

I have repented to my Father and my family, and pray for His help to keep this idea before me when temptation comes. And yes, it is also important to forgive myself and move on. If Moses, the meekest man on earth, was subject to this sin, I shouldn’t be surprised that it comes knocking at my door.

It is humbling to post this. It’s not something to be proud of, but I hope this can help someone else who might have the same tendency or temptation.

While writing this, the following song came on (available here: Psalms of Ascent CD), as a lovely underscore.

Psalm 130

New King James Version (NKJV)

Waiting for the Redemption of the Lord

A Song of Ascents.

130 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.

3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
8 And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

Hallelujah!

And now, for a total departure . . .

Hi again, faithful readers! 😉

So sorry – I’ve been a bit busy lately.  Just to get up to date, my darling 5th boy (and 7th child) joined us on January 28 – 18 days “late.” He is a complete and total joy, and a reminder of why I keep going through all this. We are learning so much on our walk lately, accompanied by the blessing of faithful family and friends who have been joining us for celebrations, observances, and lots of fellowship and growth! Since I last posted, we have come through Purim (a blast, celebrated at the local Children’s Museum), our family’s first Bat Mitzvah/Bat Brachah ceremony for our oldest daughter’s 13th birthday, Passover (hosted by us – a mere 30 people this year, and a wonderful experience), Firstfruits/Resurrection Day (picnic at a fun local park), a visit from my grandparents who live in Florida – in their 80s and still going strong.

Anyway, my honey just walked in the door for dinner, so I’m going to cut this short and paste my note to a friend who asked for recommendations for vacation spots in Washington State.  In case you need ideas, here you go!

Here are our top 10 suggestions (ok, 12):

1. Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend – you can either camp or rent space in barracks, infirmary or officers’ quarters.  Very fun, not too pricey, close to cute little waterfront town, marine museum onsite, cool old theater, officers’ quarters museum (house preserved historically as 1910-ish), woods, beach, big open field, close to Waterfront Pizza – our fave restaurant in town, plus lots of fun houses to drive around and look at and events going on all summer.

2. Suncrest Resort, Moses Lake – (number one suggestion from my crew) It’s a campground (mainly RVs and trailers, but our friends did tent camp there). There is a very cool pool with waterslides.  Check the weather prediction first. Kinda in the middle of nowhere, with a totally different climate than we’re used to.

3. Washington Park, Anacortes – like being in the San Juans, without the ferry fare – but still with the ferry fog horns – be forewarned! Great playground, beautiful woods, Nice rocks to climb around on.

4. Birch Bay State Park – Fun little resort area, Seaside feel, waterfront cotton candy and fudge, muddy beach to inspect. There is a waterslide park up there, but it was for sale last year.  Not sure if that’s operating.

5. Seaside, OR – a little further, but lots of fun – carnival rides and arcade, a similar option still in Washington is Ilwaco.

6. Silverwood, (Coeur d’Alene?) ID (more pricey, and further away, but lots of fun, if you want to go a little bigger) Just one step down from Disney – half amusement park, half waterpark, and very well done. You can get tickets a little cheaper through Costco.

7. Leavenworth KOA – Close to, but not in Leavenworth. Pool, game room, great playgrounds, short hike to the Icicle River beach, fun to poke around in the hat shop, etc. – More expensive than other camping, though.

8. Coho Ferry line from Port Angeles to Victoria (you’d need passports and/or I.D. pass cards for this) – From Port Angeles, you could drive up to Hurricane Ridge and all over the peninsula, though, and the Hoh Rain Forest, too.

9. San Juan County Park, SJI – A little-known, but beautiful gem close to Roche Harbor (location of fun marina, great little store and donut shop, historic hotel) and lighthouses to walk to, pretty little cove and big grassy field above the Strait of Juan de Fuca

10. Camlann Medieval Faire and Snoqualmie Falls (camp/stay somewhere near Carnation/North Bend?) – Have you guys been to Camlann? They are starting their Medieval Village weekends this coming week, and they run all summer, weekends only. Candle-making, archery, jousting and swordfighting – to watch or participate in, scribe, costume shop, soaps and flower wreaths, iron forge.  It’s just a few miles from the Falls. North Bend, nearby, also has a short train ride on an antique train.

11. Cama Beach State Park, Camano Island – We’ve never stayed here, but have walked through it.  A bunch of little cabins on the water, low, pebbly beach, outpost for Wooden Boat Center (can rent rowboats/canoes), little store. No camping option available, but the nicest state park bathrooms EVER – Cedar ceilings. Amazing. Cute village effect.

12. Kayak Point State Park – We camped here for Shavuot last year. They have a campground, and also nearby yurts that are a great option.  Down the hill (a hike down stairs from the campground) is the beach with huge playground, big fisherman’s dock, picnic shelters, etc. Totally insane on the weekends – I’d say midweek only.

OK, so obviously, my vacation choices revolve around water – but hey, it’s what the kids want, right?  And we’re in the Pacific Northwest – it’s everywhere! Strangely enough, our Israel trip was one long swimfest, too – Mediterranean, Galilee, Ein Gedi, Jerusalem YMCA . . .

You can also look up summer events and festivals for the state, and follow what interests your family.

Let me know what you pick!

Why I REALLY Quit Facebook – and What I’ve Done Since

no more facebook for me!

“‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said the Lady of Shalott.” – Tennyson

If you were at one time one of my “facebook friends,” and are reading this post, you may remember that when I quit facebook almost two months ago, I cited reasons like “the new format stinks and I don’t have time to figure it out,” “I can’t find my people anymore,” “I am concerned about my privacy,” and “my family needs me more.” I really can’t remember what all I put on there. I have recently heard that some friends have expressed concern that I succumbed to the “facebook is evil” school of thought, and pulled the plug for that reason.

In actuality, though, while each of these issues was indeed obnoxious and did influence the tipping of the scales, what happened for me was simpler, and I’ve decided to share it with you here, since I didn’t have the guts to actually post it ON facebook.

Here it is:
I received a special batch of irresistible “friend requests.” They were packaged in a small wax-paper bag, and were sitting next to my laptop one day when I went to log in to facebook. Each was cut down to business card size, and each had a crayoned face drawn in the corner – they were the faces of each of my children and my husband. With each familiar and beloved name, there was a choice underneath – I could choose “confirm,” or “ignore.”  My (then) 11-year-old daughter was the one responsible for crafting the requests, mostly because facebook looked like fun to her, and she wanted to participate, too.  As so often happens (for me, anyway), asking myself if I was acting as I would want my children to act in my place helped to put things in perspective.

I wish I could say I responded immediately and closed my account at that moment, but sadly, the power facebook wielded in my life was such that I couldn’t do it right then. To my shame, I still waited more than a year. I thought I would be able to merely reduce the time spent there, and be OK.  But let me tell you, those paper friend requests were a LOT heavier than the electronic kind. The conviction that I would ultimately trade in my time on facebook for time with my family gradually grew, and each time I logged in, I began to weigh the value of the time I spent there against the time I was simultaneously missing with my family.  At last, I decided to accept those paper requests and deny the electronic ones.

Yes, I’ve had a few moments of regret since – but very few; lots fewer and farther between than I had when I was on facebook regularly, for sure.  They come when I know someone just had a wedding or a baby, mostly, and I want to see their pictures.  Kind of ironic, if you think about it. . . that the things that draw me to facebook are the very things I am ignoring in my own life to go there – husbands and babies – things I know to be the important things.  Torah requires us to “Teach (these things) to your children  . . .  when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way,” which I think implies our children should largely be included in our daily lives.

I began this post with a quote from Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott.  I think it is an interesting picture of facebook.  The lady of the story is locked up in a tower, forbidden from participating in her own potential life, because she is assigned the task of weaving a beautiful picture based on what she sees reflected in a mirror.

The Lady of Shalott

I must say, I have really enjoyed getting back to “real life” without the preoccupation with the question of how to frame what was happening for my “facebook audience.” My head is a lot quieter, and I feel like I have freedom once again to fully engage in what’s going on around me.

Without facebook as the “default” setting for what to do with my free time, I’ve gotten a lot more creative! Here is a list of some of the things I’ve done with my “free time” instead:

1. Crocheted a blanket (my first EVER!) for my new little one’s upcoming arrival,

2. Played “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano (with plenty of hesitations due to lack of practice, of course!),

3. Helped my family complete a 550-piece puzzle,

4. Beat my 11-year-old son (only once, by one point) on the new “Pop-A-Shot” game my parents gave the kids for Hanukkah,

5. Laughed with my daughters and husband over the hilarious “Bad Baby Names” blog,

6. Organized a 5-city, 10-day tour of the US for friends visiting from Israel,

7. Posted to my blog for the first time since April (twice, now!),

8. Watched (and listened to) my children playing together,

9. Supervised them better, and taken more time to teach needed skills,

10. Listened to my husband say the words, “Thank you for leaving facebook.” Repeatedly.

Lots of love to my friends still in “facebook-land,” but I envy you less every day. In case you’re wondering, yes, I do still hear from my real friends, too.  Maybe not on a daily basis, but when we talk, we are able to have honest conversations and catch up without the presumption that we know what is going on inside the other, simply because we’ve read each other’s “status.”

Because I was once an English major, I’ll close with a quote from another poem that I found to be on-point:

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us — to know

Whence our lives come and where they go. . .

Only — but this is rare —

When a beloved hand is laid in ours,

When, jaded with the rush and glare

Of the interminable hours,

Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,

When our world-deafened ear

Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed —

A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,

And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.

The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,

And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.

— Matthew Arnold, from The Buried Life

Our Christmas Journey

I wrote this post last year, before setting up my blog, but a friend who originally read it on facebook recently requested I dig it up and repost. As it is appropriate for this time of year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, as well. I enjoyed reviewing it myself, and hope you find it thought-provoking!

Once upon a time, our family went “all-out” for Christmas. We shopped for presents for months; we baked goodies and passed them out to friends and neighbors; we all donned our Santa hats (even the baby) to shop for our Christmas tree, and decked it with colorful lights and festive ornaments. We wrote letters to Santa, and left them on the table with cookies and eggnog. We even thoughtfully left a carrot outside for Rudolph. My husband and I stayed up long into the night on Christmas Eve, wrapping presents and drinking eggnog while we watched the “Scrooge” movie. He had the job of assembling the big Santa presents for the kids, and I made big bows for all the packages. Christmas morning, we were awakened by excited children and would all trot downstairs together to open stockings and to see what else Santa had left. After our traditional breakfast of Baked French Toast, we would gather around the tree to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 in the Bible and would reflect momentarily on how Jesus was the “reason for the season,” and tell our children that it was His birthday we were celebrating. Then we would pass out the presents. Each child had a heap near their spot – carefully counted so that we would each have the same number of things to open, which is important when you open the gifts one at a time, and take turns around the room, as we always did. Later in the day, we would go to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for a glorious feast and more presents would be exchanged. I’m sure you know. You’ve probably done similar things yourself all your life.

But in our house one year, things started to change. It started when we watched our children opening the gifts we had so thoughtfully chosen to delight them. Instead of the typical movie-child reactions of surprise and gratitude we were expecting, we saw the ugliness of greed on their faces as each of them would finish opening one gift, immediately set it aside, and turn to the remainder of their mountainous pile, asking “What’s next for ME?” Amid the wrapping-paper carnage, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Something’s wrong, here.” We started to wonder what kinds of seeds we were planting.

And then there were the questions. Questions about Santa – “How can he fit down the chimney?” “How can the reindeer fly?” “How can he get to every house around the world in one night?” You know the questions. You asked them yourself, as a child. We dutifully passed on the same answer our parents had given us: “It’s Christmas magic!”

But there, we had a problem. You see, our family believes in the Bible. We believe every word is literally true. Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:18) And we read aloud from the Bible with some regularity. When we came to Deuteronomy 18, we found our problem:

“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

So, since we’re trying to do things as scripturally as possible, and are teaching our children the way to live to please the Lord, we asked ourselves, “Why are we lying to them about a non-existent ‘magic man’?” Oh, and why are we telling them Santa “sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”? Hmm. Doesn’t that make Santa omnipotent? Like God? And the children are supposed to behave in a way that pleases Santa, so he will give them good things – after we let him enter our house un-resisted in the middle of the night. And if we set out our little “sacrifice” of cookies and eggnog he’ll be pleased, and give them what they want (not to mention that he gets the credit for the thoughtful gifts that WE paid for!). Is it just us, or does that sound a bit like idolatry? I hope you see our problem – lying, magic, AND a false god. It really bugged us.

So, Santa got the ax. We managed to disabuse our children of the Santa notion in the car one night, as we drove across a bridge – literally and symbolically. We confessed and apologized to our children for lying. They were rather stunned, of course – more because their parents had lied than anything else. Mostly, though, our parents, who think of Santa as a harmless game, were upset that the kids weren’t “believers” any more. Later, we realized we had just made ourselves the “bad guys” in every Christmas movie on the planet. But if we want them to believe us when we tell them about God and what He has done for us, what else could we do?

So we asked ourselves, “what about the other Christmas traditions?” and looked into them, too. Sure enough, all pagan. I won’t go into them here. If you’re interested, there’s an abundance of information at your fingertips. Just google “origin” and any Christmas tradition you’d care to name – they’re all on the list – yule log, mistletoe, evergreen boughs, and tree included.

And then we noticed a passage in Jeremiah:

Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10: 1-4)

No Christmas Trees!

And my husband pointed out that every time we went to retrieve a gift from under that tree, we had to bow or kneel before it. What happened to “learn not the way of the heathen”?

Apparently, what happened was that back in history, the Catholic church, in their zeal to make converts, adopted a whole bunch of practices from the people they were “converting” to make it easier for those people to become Christians. The new converts would be able to continue celebrating as they always had, but their God now had a new name – Jesus.

But why were those things still hanging on? Wouldn’t the converts have gradually given up their pagan ways as they realized Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life? And it WAS still His birthday, wasn’t it?

Well, no. Let’s change the subject and talk about Halloween for a moment. Many Christians have realized, over the last 20 years or so, that Halloween is basically a celebration of evil and the occult, and have pulled back from their observance of it. But so that their kids could still dress up in cute costumes and enjoy candy like their neighbors, Christian parents have begun offering Halloween alternatives such as church harvest parties, also held on Halloween night, so they can still have the fun without the scary, bad parts.

Christmas started out sort of the same way. There are actually several pagan festivals that took place on the date that we know as December 25. Among the gods associated with that day are the Roman Saturn, Babylonian Tammuz, and Persian Mithras. It was known as the “birthday of the unconquered sun,” and was an occasion for revelry and debauchery. We noticed in scripture that the word “Christmas” doesn’t appear anywhere, nor does the Bible instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We learned how early believers showed no concern for celebrating the birth of the Messiah until around the 3rd century, when there were several possible dates being considered – scattered throughout the year. When it came down to it, in the 4th century, Rome decided to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on the same day as these other pagan festivals.

So it’s as if, hundreds of years from now, Christians believed that “Harvest” was a Christian holiday, and imbued it with meanings it didn’t originally have, because it was originally just a substitute holiday for Halloween. We even found out that Christmas-keeping was actually illegal in the American Colonies until the 1850s! That’s why the whole movement to “keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas” is such a head-scratcher to those who know the background.

In the Bible, we learn that God is really big on making distinctions. He separates things with regularity – light from darkness, clean from unclean, Israel from the nations. He sets things apart to be called “holy” – people (the tribe of Levi), things (the instruments of the tabernacle), places (Mt. Zion), and times (His holy days). He tells His people to “Be holy, as I am holy.” He tells us to come out from among the peoples of the earth and “be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).

The other day, we passed by a house that had a huge jumble of blow-up characters on the lawn, including a nativity scene surrounded by Santa, Frosty, Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore. Are we really reducing the Messiah of the world to the status of a fictional character and making him compete for the children’s attention to that extent? As my daughter asked, “Mom, can we just call the holiday ‘Chrismush’?”

Though we were uncomfortable with all of this, we still weren’t ready to totally walk away from our childhood traditions, so we decided to pack up the Christmas decorations and leave them in the attic for one year, just to see how we did, and if our conviction on these things would lighten. We would still go out to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for dinner, just for the fun of joining in on the traditional get-together. We thought we might be able to just do it as a family tradition, without religious connotations.

What we found was that there was way too much awkwardness in trying to do things halfway. We would tell people we would come to the celebration, but not to get us any gifts. So, there we would be sitting, as we watched others open their gifts to each other, our kids eating their hearts out as the colorful packages beckoned from beneath the tree. Oh, and the family hadn’t been able to resist getting us “a little something,” since they were doing presents anyway. But we had no gifts for any of them, which made us look cheap and uncaring, and they felt funny doing things in front of us that they knew we had consciously chosen to avoid. We realized with sinking hearts that this was not working out. What were we supposed to do? Just do the Christmas shopping anyway, so we would have something to give our hosts? And then, if we’re doing that, why weren’t we giving anything to our children? That would put us right back in the whole frenzy. Sorry, but Christmas IS largely about the gifts.

We know from the Bible that God wants us to use discernment, and judge things by the fruits they bear.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7: 17-20)

When we stepped back a bit and observed, the things we saw as the fruits of Christmas in our family were Greed, Materialism, Perfectionism, and Drivenness – and a whole lot of Nostalgia – none of which are among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

Something else we noticed was that when we pulled back from Christmas, the other holidays got a LOT more attention. We had been participating in celebrating the holy days laid out by God in Leviticus 23 for many years at that point, but hadn’t noticed that we weren’t giving them the attention they deserved as something the Father had actually put in scripture as part of His everlasting covenant.

Because we observe these holidays and steer clear of Christmas, some friends and family have thought we have turned away from our Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), and are trying to be Jewish. Nothing could be further from the truth! We strive to follow his example in all areas of our lives, which includes celebrating the holidays that were His family traditions, growing up – Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Did you know that Jesus even celebrated Hanukkah? (“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.” – John 10:22) Christmas isn’t on the list. But we found that if Christmas is still on OUR possibility list, it will always be the King of Holidays, because that’s the way we were raised, and because it takes so much preparation time and attention to do it “right.” When Christmas went away, we did sooo much better at planning and preparing for these festivals, it was amazing!

So, we liked many things about the choice to abandon Christmas – less stress, more focus on the Lord and lessons from Him. It felt like cutting out a lot of clutter from the attic. We just breathed easier, and watched the frenzy around us with peace in our hearts, though the feeling that family was hurt by our absence, and was celebrating without us was (and is) difficult.

The final scripture we read that made us cross the point of no return was the one about Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10. They were priests in the Tabernacle who offered “strange fire,” before the Lord and were struck dead on the spot. What was “strange” about the fire they offered? Only that God had not commanded it. They were offering it to Him, but it was their own idea, and not coming from obedience. As Keith Green put it, “To Obey is Better than Sacrifice.” Christmas, to us, has come to be seen as strange fire. We are uncomfortable offering something different than what He has asked us for. It would be like sending your son to bring you a screwdriver, and having him decide to bring you a cup of coffee instead. A cup of coffee is nice, but it doesn’t do the job you need done. God has tools he has laid out for us to use, and unless we use the right ones, we aren’t getting the full benefit of what He wants to teach us as we practice using them.

We found that a celebration of Jesus’ birth fits much better with a holiday he would have observed – the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot. It is an eight-day celebration where we build a temporary dwelling and celebrate the theme of God dwelling with us, as well as appreciating the temporary nature of this life. So when many people are starting their Christmas shopping, you can find us sitting outside in our beautifully decorated sukkah, eating special treats, enjoying fellowship with family and friends (yes, there are others who share our convictions!), and learning the lessons God has for us that are inherent in the things He has actually commanded us to do. We are amazed at what we learn through simple obedience!

His holy days are so rich and stunning and amazing that contrasting them with Christmas reminds me of the time there was a lightning storm on the Fourth of July one year. We were watching the fireworks until the lightning started up. The lightning was sooo much bigger and more amazing than anything man could have designed. The fireworks looked utterly puny and silly next to the flashes that lit up the entire sky!

So, this Christmas Eve, we’ll have a cozy fire, flickering candlelight, the scent of spices and fresh baking in the air, and music, games and great conversation around a richly decked table, but it will be in celebration of Erev Shabbat, a Holy Day Jesus would have observed on a weekly basis.

2011 update: For the record, Erev Shabbat does NOT coincide with Christmas Eve this year, but the 8 days of Hanukkah (another feast Jesus DID celebrate – See John 10:22) will overlap. We are taking advantage of the long weekend this year, and planning a getaway with friends, as we all celebrate Hanukkah together. Chag Sameach!

New for 2013: See https://fruitfulvinewife.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/christmas-journey-update/ !

 

Shalom, Shalom

So this is my first post . . . hopefully I’ll be better at updating than my sister-in-law, who never got further than this – so far! I’m beginning this blog because I have had some interesting thoughts occur on Torah-related topics.  I googled all of them and came up with NOTHING – so apparently, these are new thoughts that haven’t yet occurred to any blogger or journalist in this day and age, so I thought I’d put them out there to see what others think, and to give others something to find when they google their revelations!

Allow me to introduce myself – to a point.  I am Rivkah, a 2nd-generation homeschooling, Torah-observant mom to 6 beautiful children under 13.  I hardly have time for this, except occasionally in the middle of the night.  I am a “fruitful vine wife” to my husband Ya’akov, and we are nearing our 13th anniversary!  I am blessed to be his bride and the momma to our children.  I am trying to love the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and have experienced His miraculous healing power.  I love Israel, and the Hebrew language, and am looking forward to the complete restoration of the whole land and people of Israel, as anticipated by the prophets and apostles throughout the scriptures!

Of course, there’s a lot more to me, but that’s a good view of my core.

I hope you enjoy my blog – and I hope I do, too! 🙂

Oh, and I hope you all had a Happy Passover!